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Ant and human farmers face similar problems

Borges, Renee M (2001) Ant and human farmers face similar problems. In: Journal of Biosciences, 26 (2). pp. 121-122.


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Ants of the tribe Attini discovered agriculture 50 million years before humans (Mueller et al 1998). Today, nearly 200 species in 12 genera of these ants cultivate fungus gardens in the Nearctic and Neotropical regions; in the Palaeotropics, this niche is occupied by fungus-growing termites. It is believed that the act of fungus cultivation evolved just once in the attines (Wilson 1971). The primitive attines cultivate fungus on insect frass and decaying vegetation while the advanced attines are the eponymous leaf-cutting ants. These ants carefully select leaves from species that are low in fungistatic compounds, such as phenolics, carry them to underground nests where they are masticated, and plant them in soil along with fungal mycelia and glandular secretions containing proteolytic enzymes. Obligate fungal symbionts break down structural carbohydrates in the leaves and produce nutritive protruberances called gongylidia from their hyphae. The ants consume these gongylidia and also feed them to their larvae. They also prevent the fungi from forming fruiting bodies or sporophores; consequently, the fungus is clonally propagated. In the advanced attines, the queen tucks a pellet of the mutualistic fungal mycelia into her infrabuccal pouch before her nuptial flight, and then uses this fungal innoculum to seed a new fungus garden in the new colony.

Item Type: Journal Article
Publication: Journal of Biosciences
Publisher: Indian Academy of Sciences
Additional Information: Copyright of this article belongs to Indian Academy of Sciences.
Department/Centre: Division of Biological Sciences > Centre for Ecological Sciences
Date Deposited: 21 Sep 2004
Last Modified: 19 Sep 2010 04:16
URI: http://eprints.iisc.ac.in/id/eprint/1875

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